Exploring my Moroccan heritage

May 8, 2023

Camel riders in the desert: image by Michał from Pixabay

Aya Pfeufer savours evocative elements of her colourful north African culture

Morocco is majestic. It is in the northwest corner of Africa, bordered by the Mediterranean Sea and the North Atlantic Ocean. Marrakesh is a Moroccan city like no other. Algeria and Western Sahara are the land borders to the south and east.

I find my ancestors’ heritage fascinating. The history of camel cavalry especially intrigues me. Historically, camel cavalry was used in desert welfare but there is a bigger picture. Camels are used as a form of transportation by many Moroccan citizens as they are highly adaptable. Due to their strong physiology camels have also been used to carry heavy loads. Camel riding is also a very popular activity for tourists and is a source of income for the economy.

I have never been camel riding, but I would be very keen to try out this activity sometime. Not only would it be an exciting experience – riding through the deserts to admire the view – it would also be a way to feel more connected to my heritage.

Camel riding is an activity my great-grandmother would undertake with a group of people

Growing up, I remember coming across a family photo of my great grand-mother riding on a camel with a great grin across her face. In the image, she wore a long traditional Moroccan robe and an elegant lengthy headscarf. As seen by the image above, this is the sort of activity that my great-grandmother would undertake with a group of people.

Many of my Moroccan ancestors were religious. In fact, religion is very important in Morocco. Islam is the main religion, and many people pray frequently at the holy place of worship, The Hassan II Mosque, located in Casablanca, on land near the shores of the Atlantic Ocean. This is because historically, King Hassan II hoped this would make worshippers be reminded of all of God’s prominent creations.

You may not know this, but it is actually the largest mosque in Africa and this indicates how many Muslims go there and how significant and important it is for many.

The Hassan II Mosque: image by Henk Prenger from Pixabay

I find it astonishing how many people, young or old, come to the mosque every day. Regardless, one thing they all have in common is their connection to God. It’s an ongoing and persistent relationship that is reflected through praying five times a day. I have never seen The Hassan II Mosque myself in person, but I can picture how breathtaking the sight of it would be. Its grand presence, height and proximity to the glittering ocean is beautiful.

The mosque is used mainly for religious purposes, however, it is also used for educational. As religion is fundamental to early education in Morocco, most Moroccan children commence their education at their local mosque. They are taught the Quran and it is used as a fundamental approach and tool to teach, improve and develop children’s literacy skills.

As I am from a household with multiple religions on both sides of my family – Judaism, Islam and Christianity – I have not been taught the Quran from a young age. But I am still fascinated by the power and deep meanings of some of the verses, and how followers resonate and connect with the passages on their own level.

The Quran says there is always a solution to our problems, even if it does not seem obvious and clear at first

Having done research on passages of the Quran, a verse that stood out and impacted me is: “Allah does not charge a soul except [with that within] its capacity.” (Quran, 2:286).

Readers may have various interpretations of the meaning of this sentence. I believe that it is simply saying that you can get through any obstacle or challenge that passes your way on your journey. In other words, Allah believes that you can overcome hardships or struggles you may face in life if you truly believe you can. There is always a solution to our problems, even if it does not seem obvious and clear at first.

Another interesting way mosques were used was as a means to share essential religious information and to come to an agreement in disputes. In fact, historically, mosques of the seventh century were first used as public spaces for citizens to stay but have developed to look like domes, implying they are now viewed as places of worship for followers of Islam.

Mosques were first established on the Arabian Peninsula, which is where Muslims first settled. Another significant Mosque in Morocco is the historic Karaouine Mosque in Fez which was founded in 859.

The medina, also known as a souk, is an exciting place for visitors as there are many different items on display: herbs, spices and materials such as leather

The interior of the mosque is fascinating, designed using complex shapes. These details tend to dazzle visitors, as it is interesting to view the talented skills of the craftsmen who constructed the design. Karaouine Mosque also serves as an educational institute, one of the oldest in the world.

Initially, it was not very grand in size. Nevertheless, over thousands of years, it has been developed and extended to become to accommodate the growing number of followers of Allah. In fact, it now has room for around 20,000 worshipers.

The medina, the old part of a city, with traditional architecture, is present is Morocco, established since the Berber Empire. The medina has densely contained alleys. Many activities take place there. It is an opportunity for vendors to sell products, for example, pottery and textiles. The alleys in a medina are so narrow cars and large vehicles are unable to pass through.

The medina, also known as a souk, is an exciting place for visitors as there are many different items on display such as herbs, spices and different types of materials, such as leather. Many tourists purchase souvenirs from the marketplace. Often, there will be competition between the sellers and the marketplace is often lively and boisterous with merchants chanting in all directions.

Pottery on sale in a Moroccan souk: image by Daniel Wanke from Pixabay

Additionally, in Morocco there are specialised souks that serve a purpose. For instance, some souks solely focus on selling spices or some others only sell carpets. The scents are strong and the spices are very colourful.

There are thousands of stalls in the souks of Marrakesh, and many alleyways it’s almost like a maze and takes time to walk from one section to the another. One of the most visited souks is Souk Semmarine and the alleyways, unlike most souks, are wider. When you enter, there are stalls with pottery on either side. As you move on further down, you will see textiles being sold and kaftans. Small jewellery such as bracelets and earrings are often targeted towards tourists. There are also many carpet, which vary in colour and pattern, on stalls.

A major event that happens annually in July is the Arts Festival and is one of the most popular events in Morocco. Performances such as music, dance, and theatre groups take place throughout Marrakesh and many attend the lively and entertaining events.

The main events occur at El Badi Palace, which is very large. It was constructed in 1578 and commissioned by Ahmad al-Mansur, a sultan of the Saadian dynasty.

The Quran is the holy book of Islam, and has evolved over time, based on manuscripts as well as on historical findings

Not only is Morocco incredible for its events, it is also known for its mountains, deserts and beaches. Therefore, some refer to it as ‘The Arab West’. Morocco as is also known for its rich culture which focuses on tradition and religion. The culture of Morocco is a blend of Arab, Berber, Jewish and Western European cultures. It shows the different and wide span of a converging influences throughout history.

Morocco is centred on the Islamic tradition, and the majority, in fact 99% of the population are Sunni Muslim. The Quran is the holy book of Islam, and has evolved over time, based on manuscripts as well as on historical findings.

The Quran is full of lessons and wisdom and has been around for many centuries. It is an essential part of Islam. It has writings on good deeds. In the second verse of the second chapter of the Quran, God states that the Quran is a book consisting of verses of guidance (Quran 2:2).

Muslims believe the Quran to be God’s final revelation and that it is the words of God and how God communicates with the people. The Quran was revealed by the archangel Gabriel to the final Prophet Muhammad (who has the blessings of God). This happened in West Arabia, near Mecca in 610.

The Quran: image by Ejup Lila from Pixabay